Walter Arce/ASP, Inc.
Photo: Walter Arce/ASP, Inc.

Dixon Finds Positives in INDYCAR GP Defeat

By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief

INDIANAPOLIS – There isn’t much that reigning and five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon hasn’t seen throughout his 19 years in Indy car racing.

So the 38-year-old New Zealander could feel defeat looming despite leading as the laps trickled down in the INDYCAR Grand Prix. The 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the site of persistently increasing rain and an abundance of mixed strategies, which saw Dixon look every bit the part of his winning pedigree as he led a race-high 39 laps.

However, in the waning moments the mirrors of his No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda were full of the bright neon yellow of Simon Pagenaud’s No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet. Despite his best efforts, Dixon was cast aside coming out of Turn 9 on the penultimate circuit of the 85-lap race.

For the third consecutive season, Dixon was left looking at a runner-up finish in the event.

“I’ve been part of many of these, so you’ve got to take them,” Dixon said. “There’s days where you get a win and you never really knew it was coming. So you’ve got to take the highs with the lows, but I think still finishing second and having a fairly dominant day is something to be proud of.

“These wins are harder and harder to get, so you can see even the expression with Simon after getting that victory. It’s hard to get them here right now, and it’s good to see him back in Victory Lane.

“I don’t know, you just roll with it, man. You kind of roll on both sides and if you keep knocking on the door, eventually it’s going to open.”

The aforementioned strategy play was one Dixon looked to have well in hand early on, electing to run two stints on the Firestone alternate (red sidewall) tire compound. As the weather increased, though, the call was made to switch to the treaded wet compound during their final pit stop on Lap 59, which caused an imbalance in the setup that ultimately cost them a chance at becoming the third different driver and team combination to win in the event’s six-year history.

“When you’re doing a 40-mile-an-hour corner and if he’s rolling five miles an hour faster, the time gets chewed up really fast,” said Dixon, a 44-time race winner.

“It’s five miles an hour when you’re doing 160 on the straights, nowhere near the same amount. I was trying to use it sporadically in spots to try and lessen the pain, but you knew it was coming.

“It was one of those scenarios where you’re either hoping for a yellow or it was going to be a timed race and come up short by a couple laps.”

If there is one significant positive coming out of the gut-wrenching result for Dixon, it is that he moved up to second in the overall championship standings and sits just six points behind leader Josef Newgarden.

For now, though, it’s merely inspiration for the ultimate prize of the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on May 26.

“I think in the IndyCar Series right now, you need to be good in all areas and try and maximize on it, which I think we’ve done a pretty good job this year,” said Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 champion.

“I think we’re the only car actually to be in the Firestone Fast Six every race. But days like this are the days you need to try to capitalize and get the win, and we didn’t. So it’s nice to have the performance and nice to run fast, but we’re here to win. With our team, if we don’t win, then it sucks.

“We’ll use this as motivation and hopefully, performance-wise we’re strong the next couple weeks and then can have a good shot into the 500.”

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Joey Barnes is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Motorsports Tribune. He has covered auto racing since 2013 that has spanned from Formula 1 to NASCAR, with coverage on IndyCar. Additionally, his work has appeared on Racer, IndyCar.com and Autoweek magazine. In 2017, he was recognized with an award in Spot News Writing by the National Motorsports Press Association.